‘I’m going to need talking time tonight, Mum’ my eldest daughter whispered to me.
Just shy of nine, the Bombshell is in that twilight zone of wanting to be a kid, but knowing that something big is just around the corner. Tall, bright and thoughtful, she is a lovely person to be around – except when she is practicing to be a teenager, which seems to be happening more and more often these days.
Talking time, which usually happens in bed before lights out, is our way of connecting with each other. A one-on-one chance to discuss things that might be troubling her or just a chin-wag without pesky sisters listening in.
‘You know how you said I couldn’t get a boyfriend until I was 18…’ she began.
I didn’t recall saying that exactly, but it seemed like good advice and it hardly seemed the time to debate the point.
‘Yes,’ I said in my best non-panicked voice. Where was this going?
‘Well, do you think it is ok if I have a friend who is a boy?’
She looked up at me with her big blue eyes, hopeful and pained at the same time.
I knew exactly who she was talking about. Earlier that night we had been for a class dinner at the local food court, and despite the enormous turnout of a dozen families and more than 45 adults and kids, I had seen them at one point, sitting by themselves at a long, otherwise empty table. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, or if they were talking at all.
It seemed like one of those moments in the movies, when the world continues to rush around you, while the main characters remain motionless, unaffected by what was happening around them.
My other two kids were part of the crowd, running like ferals through the food court. The youngest (now a Kindy kid) was bailing up the Year Five boys and threatening them with her water bottle, while my middle was flirting with someone’s popular older sister. Kids were everywhere. Parents were chatting over each other, moving around the tables, greeting each other warmly. Food was being passed around, drinks were being poured, everyone was in a state of flux and action.
Except those two. Heads together, a moment of solitude amongst a carnival of noise.
It didn’t last, but later that night it was obviously on her mind.
‘Of course,’ I said. ‘I would hope that you have friends that are boys as well as girls.’
‘But...’ and I could tell there was more, but she couldn’t articulate it.
‘Do you want to hold his hand?’ I asked, choosing the most innocent of activities I could think of. Kissing is still considered gross and shocking in our house.
She screwed up her face. ‘No!’ she said with disgust.
Ooops, too far, I thought.
‘Do you get excited when you see him?’ I said.
She rocked her head side to side thinking, then shrugged.
‘No… not excited’ she admitted.
I thought again.
‘Are you just glad when you see him, and glad to know he is at school?’
She smiled broadly – ‘that’s it,’ she said. ‘I’m just glad he is there.’
I couldn’t resist cupping her face in my hand. ‘I’m sure he feels the same way, and that’s how all good friends feel. You feel reassured to know they are nearby. Girls, boys, whatever. What you are describing is just special friendship, and that is totally ok to feel like that.’
She smiled, obviously reassured.
I was reassured too. Earlier that night I had heard parents of older kids discussing the fact that boys and girls who had been friends since pre-school, were worried about being teased for walking to school together. While the divide between the sexes was inevitable at some point, I hoped it was a long way off, and that my daughters could just look at people as friends and evaluate them on what type of person they were, as opposed to whether they were a boy or a girl. Naïve, perhaps, but still a worthy dream.
‘Thanks Mum,’ she said and reached for her book, her problem obviously sorted.
I wandered out, feeling the thrill of managing to solve a problem without stuffing it up, the warmth of affection towards my growing daughter, and the stab of panic of what might come next.